Disengaging: Overwatch's Most Devastating Strategy
An Overview of Disengaging
When you think about the last time you won a team fight, what comes to mind first? Was it the clutch Widowmaker pick? Was it your Reinhardt Leeroy Jenkins-ing into the middle of the enemy, tossing bodies side to side? Or was it a carefully planned and executed wombo-combo – a Graviton Surge with a Pulse Bomb or a Nanoboosted Dragonblade? Your interpretation of the turning point in a team fight will probably vary based on your skill rating and experience but there’s one counter-intuitive, group-based play that trumps all others. This is a play that is so powerful that it can remove another team’s ultimates if done right, something that team wipes cannot even claim. This play has made waves during Apex Season 3, and since I have now had multiple requests to review the tournament I will be using specific moments from Apex to illustrate its power. By now (I hope) you have already read the title of this article: I’m talking about disengaging.
Disengaging is a strategy that is fascinating because it’s not really something that you can execute in ranked play. Disengaging requires an understanding between two teams of six, a mutual respect of each other’s skill and team coordination that elevates the game to a higher level. On this plane of Overwatch, teams scout each other’s tendencies and metagame against each other’s lineups, positioning, and ultimate usage in a way that just cannot be replicated on the competitive ladder. The more teams play against each other in this setting, the more their actions begin to coalesce from the randomness of ragtag strangers trying to be “heroes” into legitimate game-plans and crystallized, predictable reactions. This leads to the first type of disengage that I have identified: the “Run and Hide” disengage.
** Note, I will be leaning on the translations provided by Reddit user /u/TISRobin311 for opinions from Lunatic Hai’s coach AlwaysSoov’s stream reviews. He/she does great work, I suggest checking it out sometime.
“Run and Hide”
Lunatic Hai’s coach, AlwaysSoov, once stated that Rogue (and implies other Western teams) “…always has a habit of using their ultimates “first” to take the initiative, not as a reactionary measure, so LH took advantage of that.” Rogue’s usage of ultimates was/is not only predictable but doubly exploitable because according to the coach: “Rogue…tend to use multiple ults at the same time instead of using each ultimate in order”. Soov thus prepared his team for their games against Rogue by identifying and strategizing around these two predictable tendencies. As we saw throughout their matches, Lunatic Hai was able to perfectly execute “Run and Hide” disengages, and the clip above encapsulates the concept. Creatures of habit, Rogue responded to a bit of pressure from Lunatic Hai by starting what they thought would be their own counter-attack by stacking Winz’s Sound Barrier with aKm’s Tactical Visor…only to find Lunatic Hai has completely disappeared:
Where did they go? Hollywood is an especially good map for “Run and Hide” disengages because of the options for cover during its streets phase. Lunatic Hai chose the high ground option, jumping above and out of sight of aKm’s auto-aim
Two ultimates wasted, due to a counter-strategy planned out and practiced days before the match even happened. It’s particurly devastating because Rogue was easily ahead on ultimate economy and gained nothing position or time-wise from spending those ultimates. Lunatic Hai still had plenty of time to push the cart, only now on even ultimate-charge footing.
Split-second timing often wins the day at the highest levels of Overwatch: Dropping the Beat in response to a Nano-Blading Genji can mean the difference between life and death. Putting in 10-12+ hours a day for over a year now, Pros have gotten extremely good at reacting quickly to team-wiping situations. Too good, because the strategy metagame evolved to make muscle memory a liability by faking real engages to force out these reactions. This leads to a slightly different type of disengage, one that I’ll be calling “Bait and Trade”.
“Bait and Trade”
This is one of the more easily recognizable Disengages because it has two opposing elements: an action, and a reaction. As stated before, the goal is to provoke a reaction – usually a Transcendance or a Sound Barrier – through some threatening, but ultimately less valuable action. This generally comes in the form of a non-Nanoboosted Dragonblade, one of the more powerful offensive ultimates and one that cannot be shut down by Defense Matrix. Just the sight of a Genji dashing into the air and the vocal queue of “Ryūjin no ken o kure!” is usually enough to provoke one or more ultimates in response. Lunatic Hai’s coach was once again a fountain of wisdom on this subject, with regard to their Rogue matchup: “WhoRU was ordered to use his dragonblade not for kills, but to induce multiple ultimates from Rogue because [I] knew Rogue would use at least 2~3 ults as a reaction to WhoRU’s dragon blade alone since it has always been their habit.”
And here’s an example of (almost) exactly that:
Rather than commit Whoru’s Dragonblade, Lunatic Hai used Nanoboost instead and Whoru suicide-dived Rogue’s backline. He was slept, killed, and generally embarrassed, but his kamikaze mission was a smashing success because prompted Rogue to NanoVisor in return. Having traded two deaths (Miro was lost in the scrum as well) and one ultimate for two, Lunatic Hai then immediately disengages out of line of sight – mission accomplished.
This concept of “trading” even just one offensive ultimate for one defensive ultimate tends to work out in the offense’s favor since there’s many more offensive ultimates than defensive ones. A team could force out Sound Barrier with Dragonblade, Transcendance with Graviton Surge, and still have Nanoboost, Tactical Visor, Primal Rage, and Pulse Bomb left over. “Trading” can even involve dying – like in the clip above – if that’s what it takes to burn one of those precious defensive ultimates and put your team ahead. Until more defensive ults are added, baiting will be be a constant mind-game, and only the
master best baiters will come out on top.
There are other, less obvious disengages that require a bit of thought to evaluate in the moment. This kind of disengage still invokes the same mind-games as “Run and Hide” and “Bait and Trade”, although it is much less focused on ultimate economy and more focused on the micro/positional level. Rather than beat around the bush, let’s give it a name: “Bait and Surround”
Bait and Surround
This is a type of disengage that I noticed while watching (and re-watching…) EnVyUs play X6-Gaming in the Apex quarterfinals. On the first pass-through of these VODs, I noticed Mickie and Cocco often died early in unusually bad positions cut off from the rest of their team. Knowing that Mickie and Cocco certainly are not bad players, I was curious how this kept happening – so I re-watched one of these instances again until I noticed what X6 was doing:
In a Dive vs Dive mirror like this one, whoever dives onto the other team’s supports tends to get the first kills. However, there are varying pressures keeping these dives from happening the instant the two teams run into each other. For example, Tracer players will often function as their own solo unit, simultaneously attempting to soften up their opponent’s healers while peeling the other Tracer off of their own. If either of these players score a kill, or even deal a decent amount of damage to an opponent, this can trigger that pivotal first dive. Other things can lead a team to decide to dive, and we see one of them here.
In this clip, Nosmite edges towards EnVy’s main group – note that he doesn’t Leap – drops a Bubble, and starts cleaving their frontline with his Tesla Cannon. He’s supported by Choihyobin, and EnVyUs seems to decide that they’ve strayed too far from their main force.
This prompts Mickie to fly past them towards their supports
…which springs the trap. X6 was hoping that EnVyUs would dive first, because now all Nosmite and Hyobin have to do is to turn around to surround Mickie on all sides
*Apologies for the poor camera angle, I can’t do anything about that
Nosmite removes any doubt that this was intentional by utilizing his unused Leap back onto his own supports – and Mickie.
Cocco follows him in, but it’s too late. Both EnVyUs Tanks melt, and X6 easily takes the point up 6v4 from there.
“Bait and Surround” is a devious, position based disengage designed to exploit the current dive meta. It’s like a Venus Flytrap, a plant that makes itself look, smell, and taste irresistible to its given prey. Now that teams have become accustomed to the dive meta, they are constantly probing for juicy openings to start begin their bursty dives. Like the Flytrap, “Bait and Surround” strategies mimic these tempting openings and invite opponents to “dive first”, and seek the sweet prize of support kills within. But these openings are fake, fleeting, and deliberate. To their credit, EnVyUs did not always fall for these traps, but when they did the fight was almost instantly lost.
Disengages are sometimes hard to spot, but there’s a couple of things to continuously monitor during teamfights if you want to be a more educated viewer of professional Overwatch. Try to keep a mental checklist of the ultimates available before a fight, the ultimates used during a fight, and what ultimates remain after a fight. If a team uses one ultimate, loses two or three people, but the other team uses three or four ultimates – that can generally be considered a win for the first team unless it’s the final fight of the game. If a team seems out of position, but suddenly pulls a 180 to turn back on a diving hero, chances are they were trying to mindgame the other team into diving first.
The Evolution of Disengages
I just spent all of this time painting disengages as a devastating tactic used by teams to exploit “strike-first” actions from engagement-based teams, but in reality Overwatch is a constant power struggle between aggression and reactions to the aggression. Whichever team has more confidence in their action – be it the engager or the disengager – will tend to win the fight. There’s a reason Rogue developed aggressive ultimate stacking habits during their months-long blitzkreig through the NA scene. Rogue ratcheted up their aggression to 11 by asserting their superior mechanical skill in a meta that fit their hero pool. The other NA teams either did not have the practice time, coaching, or mechanical skill to execute the disengaging strategies shown by Lunatic Hai and other Korean teams, so it did not matter that Winz would begin fights with Sound Barriers and NiCO with (non-Bait and Trade) Dragonblades. Rogue always got the kills anyway. In NA, the Engage vs Disengage arms race was (and still probably is) tipped towards the “engage” side in this current dive meta: the most aggressive and skilled teams tend to win the most fights. Korea, a region with a higher density of skilled players and better coaching, was able to turn Rogue’s strength into a weakness.
But, that’s not where this story ends. The balance between disengages and engages has continued to evolve in the current meta, thanks to the rise of Sombra. Sombra is the ultimate engagement tool, with her instant-cast, huge AoE, fastest-charging-ultimate-in-the-game EMP. I wrote at length in last week’s meta report about the increase in Sombra usage on non-2CP maps as teams have learned to abuse this seemingly un-counterable opening, and EnVyUs was quick to pull her out against X6 – but X6 was prepared.
Korean teams have seen enough EMP in scrims that it is now considered a misplay if a Zenyatta does not Transcendence in time to counter a Sombra EMP. The ever-so-slight problem with Sombra is that de-stealthing has a small delay during which no abilities can be used. This and the fact that her Translocator can be spotted flying through the air gives Korean Zenyatta players the split second they need to react. However, this kind of play sounds much easier on paper than it is to execute in a tournament: EnVy’s EMPs hit much more often than not throughout the course of the tournament.
Later in Hollywood, something amazing happened: we witnessed the evolution of the disengage metagame live, on camera. Just like Dragonblade can be used to force out defense ultimates like Transcendence and Sound Barrier, so too can EMP – or even just the threat of an EMP. The muscle memory and reaction time needed to preemptively Transcendence an EMP leaves it open to exploitation. EnVyUs, known for their ability to adapt on the fly, was able to identify this weakness and execute a feint-EMP to bait Bebe into Transcendence-ing:
But they lost the fight anyway. EnVy may have taken a bit too long to realize the potential to bait out a Transcendence, since it was the end of the map and X6 was going to dump all of their ultimates sooner rather than later. Regardless, I expect the Engage vs Disengage arms race to continue in this way if Sombra’s usage rate holds at this level, with EMPs, Fake EMPs, and Transcendence mind games defining fights at Overwatch’s highest levels. It’ll be a beautiful dance to watch.
That’s all from me, special thanks again to TISRobin311 for his translations, and AlwaySoov from Lunatic Hai for doing his VOD reviews!
Until next time,